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Give Da Drummer Some!

Give Da Drummer Some!

When I was in the third grade, I learned to play trumpet under the watchful eye of Mrs. Frankel; I clearly remember being in the music room with the others learning trumpet and because we were standing up, I, um, passed out because I had locked my knees instead of being relaxed.  Not an auspicious moment but kinda funny.

The church around the corner – and what’s ironic/funny is that today, it’s my cousin Aretha’s church – had a beautiful five manual organ and that instrument just fascinated me so much that the church organist, a really nice lady, started teaching me how to play it, even though I was way too short for my feet to reach the pedals and my arms too short to reach the upper three manuals.  Music just came naturally to me; learning how to read music (and, later, write it) was just too much fun.  Being a trumpeter, wow, there were so many great trumpeters, from Louis Armstrong to Al Hirt, who got my attention for playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for the TV show, “The Green Hornet,” which also introduced America to Bruce Lee as “Kato.”  And I wanted to learn how to play it just like Al Hirt did!

My music teacher, Mr. Bowie, himself an amazing trumpeter, didn’t think I could do it – you should see the sheet music; it made my eyes hurt the first time I saw it!  But I was determined and I spent many hours in the practice room just totally messing it up and being more than envious when Mr. Bowie would take my trumpet and play the piece with stupid ease.  I finally got it, even played it for the school talent show… and then I got interested in playing the drums.

To shorten this just a bit, there were a lot of drummers who inspired me; I had gotten my hands on a kit and spent hours driving my mom nuts teaching myself how to play it, which just came easily to me and, eventually at the ripe old age of 15, I was in a band with four of my friends and playing gigs all over the place, including the world-famous Apollo Theater in New York.  In high school, I played trumpet for marching band and orchestra and drums for jazz band – but only after becoming a member of the National Association of Rudimentary Drummers; passing that test wasn’t easy, nor was learning how to execute all those rudiments.

A lot of years later, my favorite group, Spyro Gyra, changed drummers, a guy named Joel Rosenblatt… and his drumming style was mesmerizing.  When I went to my first SG concert, wow, Joel’s Tama drum kit and setup was insane for a drummer in a “jazz” band; that and how easy and smoothly he handled that kit just blew me away and inspired me to put together a new kit of my own while challenging me to duplicate his style which even today makes me nuts but, yeah, I got to the point where I could play along with Spyro Gyro’s music without having to work so hard.

At another SG concert, I got to meet Joel and the rest of Spyro Gyra, including keyboardist Tom Schuman – playing his parts on their music was equally challenging but so much fun.  They quickly learned I was a fellow musician and I was able to spend a few precious moments talking drumming with Joel and keyboards with Tom and I think both were genuinely flattered that I was all into their styles of playing.  Hell, I’ll even admit to daydreaming about sitting in with SG and playing Joel’s kit, pictured (hopefully) in my featured image.  And, yes, I can play that kit…

Joel left Spyro Gyro to pursue other interests after over a decade with the group and while they’ve tried several drummers to replace Joel, well, those guys are good… but they ain’t Joel…

 
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Posted by on 14 October 2016 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Prince

I was shocked to learn of his death, like many others who enjoyed his rather unique brand of music.  When he came on the scene and I heard his music for the first time, it was… different yet kinda familiar and, as a musician myself, I realized that what was different about his music is that it kinda didn’t “make sense” when you first listened to it and his lyrics often had me asking, “What is he trying to say?”

Then I saw “Purple Rain…” and his music suddenly made sense given that the movie was a kind of backhanded story about his life and, for me, why his music sounded the way it did.  Once I understood him, wow, I’d listen to “Purple Rain” and it would often bring tears to my eyes because the song and it’s lyrics were so hauntingly beautiful; adding his music to my collection just made sense.

Years later, my daughter opened a box of cereal for her kids… and won a grand prize for an all-expense paid trip to NYC and included VIP tickets to Prince’s “Musicology” tour.  I’d been listening to his special brand of music for years, had seen him on TV a few times, but had never seen him in concert and word was he usually put on one hell of a show.  As the limo dropped us off at Madison Square Garden the night of the concert, we were all excited and the musician/performer in me was really amped to see this musical legend perform right before my eyes… and it was everything I expected it to be and then some; his energy on stage was contagious and he just made you share in the fun he was having in front of a sold-out  MSG.

I still have my autographed “Musicology” CD from that night.

And now he’s gone… and like Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gerald Levert, and Luther Vandross, and so many others, Prince’s special and unique style of music will live on forever.

 
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Posted by on 23 April 2016 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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It’s Stuck!

One of the things that has always kinda bugged me is waking up with a song stuck in my head.  As a musician, I’m always thinking about music, either songs that already exist or great musical scores I’m concocting in my head that have yet to become real music.  But that morning song thing?  Makes me nuts!

Today’s stuck song is Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” and, as usual, I have no idea why this particular song has decided to engrave itself into my consciousness.  It’s a great song, fantastic horns and good vocals even though I’ve never understood how the song’s title relates to anything – but, hey, sometimes, that just happens, right?  But the way I usually get a song unstuck is to listen to it and, yeah, sometimes, that doesn’t help.

There are quite a few theories about why this happens to people as well as things one can do about this and while I understand the science a little – at least I kinda get what they’re saying about it – it’s just weird to be asleep then wake up… then your internal jukebox starts playing before you actually sit up and start your day.  The phenomenon is so random, too, like my mental jukebox is locked in shuffle mode – there’s no telling what song or genre is going to be playing once I make the shift from unconscious to conscious – it’s like my brain is playing “Reveille” and announcing the start of the day or something.

One way to get rid of the earworm, as they’re called, is to read a book and I guess it’s to distract your mind from having a song looping around in your head… except that doesn’t work for me; I can read, write a blog, doing something on my computer or even focusing on playing Borderlands 2 – and that song will just keep looping until I listen to it – and that’s provided I have it on my computer and I don’t have to go digging through all of my CDs to find it and, yeah, I’ve done that a few times because the damned thing won’t go away until I do!

Once I listen to it, it’s like the earworm is satisfied and, poof, no more looping song!  Or, um, it gets me to thinking about similar songs that I haven’t heard in a while – and my earworm seem to choose songs I haven’t listened to in a coon’s age, like the morning I awoke to “Love on a Two-way Street,” a song I haven’t heard in at least five years – but I do have it in my music collection.

I get that songs that are catchy – even the ones used in commercials – can get your attention during the day… but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always awakened to that stuck song that I haven’t heard for however long it’s been, like waking up to Mandrill’s “Children of the Sun” the other day – it seems that my earworm doesn’t like songs that I don’t like or, even better, songs written by people that I’ve never heard.  Like, I don’t listen to Lady Gaga so I have no idea what her music sounds like nor do I own any of it.  So it seems that my morning earworm only selects music performed by people I’ve heard before and then only the songs that I actually like.

I don’t think this is a bad thing, such as it is; because I’m getting older and thanks to the stroke I had,  I know my memory’s suspect at times – but I can remember an earworm-induced song right down to the key it’s written in – how weird is that?  I just find it funny that a few seconds after my conscious mind turns itself on to wake me up, a song gets stuck – and then I’m making myself nuts humming it until I relent and actually listen to the song.

I wonder what tomorrow’s song is gonna be?

 
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Posted by on 1 May 2013 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Ah, The Classics

As some of you who have been following me, I love classical music.  I fell in love with Bach in junior high school and, as a musician, dove head first into many composers.  So, I was skulking around the web looking for a particular piece of music (Beethoven’s Adagio Cantabile) and found “The Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Words …Ever!” a four-CD set of what I’d call classic classical music.

All of my favorites are on here – Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and some I haven’t heard in a while so I plan on listening to the set… if I can get past this one piece.  See, I’m one of those listeners of music who will latch onto a song and just play it over and over… because I really got into it.  The first time I heard, “Lascia ch’io pianga, (written by Handel)” it was rather beautifully done by Sarah Brightman – you should hear her version of “Ave Maria.”  Now, your boy doesn’t speak Italian… but after hearing Sarah singing it, I not only hunted down the words translated into English, I went and got the sheet music so I could learn how to play it… and decided that it sounds better sung in Italian than English

So when I see this beautiful piece of music on the four-CD set, I knew I had to listen to it just to see how it might differ from the only other version I’ve heard… and I was just fucking blown away by what I heard.  The first twenty-five seconds of the song is done a capella by a choir of women; it is so heavenly I had to make myself stop flicking the progress bar on my iPod back to the beginning just so I could listen to those twenty-five seconds over and over.

Ah… I can understand why this song was chosen for this CD set.  At night, before I go to sleep, I slip on my Bose QC-3 headphones and let the music play until my eyelids grow heavy.  The harmonies are exquisitely done and the lead vocalist’s voice is crisp and clear and so much so that you can hear her rolling the R’s where it’s needed.  Musically, it’s ‘simple’, growing in complexity as the song comes to an end; harp and pizzicato strings in the beginning makes this so soft and soothing; a cello interlude is nicely done as well.

I’m sure there are other versions of this song out there and other interpretations, too.  I’ve heard Sarah’s version and now this one and I’m wondering if anyone else has done this piece this well.  If I had to compare the two, I like them both; I think the solo vocalist’s voice is a tad bit better than Sarah’s and, trust me, that girl is no slouch so you should try to find these two wonderful versions, listen to them, and decide for yourself…

 
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Posted by on 1 December 2012 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Must Be the Music

I am momentarily frustrated.  While sitting here doing stuff, a piece of music popped into my head from a very long time ago:  The Deep River Suite by Frank Erickson.  You guys know I’m a musician but you probably don’t know I got started when I was 7 with the trumpet and, yup, I played in the elementary school orchestra – and this particular piece of music – and another one I cannot remember the name of – has stuck with me over the years.

I can remember the music – it’s both rousing and haunting; the suite contains three pieces:  Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Deep River, and Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.  Once again, memory is an amazing thing because not only can I recall in detail the day we played this piece in assembly, I can remember every single part of the suite.  Deep River is one of the pieces I use to practice with at times, too.  Good, huh?  Wait, it gets better…

With the Deep River part rolling through my mind I wondered if the music still exists in physical form – and it does… except it seems that Mr. Erickson wrote the suite for saxophone and woodwind quartet and, um, apparently not for full concert band or orchestra in that sense.  But I remember it and I doubt that Mrs. Frankel, my music teacher, re-arranged this suite for full concert band/orchestra; I mean, she could have but I remember the full score for this – and it wasn’t handwritten like some of the stuff she used to do for us at times.

I’d have to come up with $6.99 for the “version” I found and since I can read music written for different instruments – and I have a Korg music workstation – I can reproduce the suite with all the required instruments and I think this’ll be a nice project for me to undertake; gotta keep the music skills sharp as well.

Now, it is possible that someone rearranged Mr. Erickson’s woodwind quartet version for orchestra; if so, I need to find it if I can (the Korg can do that, too).  I can crank up my SONAR software and start sequencing all of the parts, blending them together so I can literally be a one-man orchestra – oh, I do so love this stuff!  This will allow me to edit the sequences to, um, get the mistakes out and when it’s perfect, I can wave my fingers over the computer and now I have a file that can be played on the computer, burned to CD, etc.

I’m kinda wondering why this piece of music got stuck in my head; maybe because it’s all wet and dreary here today because of the off-and-on rain…

 
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Posted by on 6 December 2011 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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In the Year 2525

In 1969, a duo called Zager and Evans performed a song that, if you listened to the lyrics, was a stone bummer.  I remember the song quite well because, wow, I was so much in love and this apocalyptic song was a part of it.  One year, at summer camp, I met this girl, she of the flame-red hair, oddly pale skin, green eyes and freckles – lots of them. I met her the first day of camp when everyone’s getting registered, kids are crying, parents are losing their minds and literally trying to break camp.  At one point, you have to go over to the camp store and open your account, which allows you to buy goodies, camp-related stuff like village T-shirts, patches, and other cool stuff.

I’m in there with my mother, who’s at the counter handing over the $100 my godparents supplied for this summer at camp – a small fortune, all things considered.  While she’s handling the business, I happened to look to my right… and there she was.  Okay, this’ll sound corny but our eyes met and, all of a sudden, I felt dizzy and my legs turned into wet noodles; as she looked back at me, she actually gasped and turned an interesting shade of red before she regained her composure and smiled.  I had gotten my shit together although my heart was beating rapidly when she came over, dazzled me with her smile and said, “Hi, I’m Chris!”

“Robby,” I said, taking the hand she offered and giving it a polite squeeze – then she really messed with my head.

“I think I’m in love with you,” she whispered, casting a glance back toward her parents who were discussing something with one of the store’s personnel.  “What village are you in?”

“Sioux,” I said with a bit of pride, having “graduated” from the Iroquois village pre-teen guys were assigned to.

“I’m going to be in Ute,” she said, still peeking at her parents.  “I love you and I’ll see you at assembly, okay?”

Duh.  In the background, the song “In the Year 2525” was playing as I nodded stupidly.  My heart was trying to do a 16-stroke drum roll and by the time my mother turned to tell me I was set and she was ready to head home, instead of me being more composed, I was even more confused – how could someone I just met be in love with me?  Even better, how did I know she spoke the truth?

We’re not even going to talk about the fact that she was quite white and I was Black… in 1969, a year removed from the horrible riots that ensued when MLK was assassinated and racial tensions were still quite high.  I’ll get back to this in a few.

This was one of those summers that was a bit fuzzy for me because I don’t remember a whole lot of things other than Chris pretty much being glued to me every chance we could be together.  We had the same activities and at the same time – archery, rifle, and swimming and, yep, she was my buddy for this.  I remember that we discovered we both lived in Wilmington and I was very familiar with the Alapocas development she lived in while, of course, I lived in the inner city – but that didn’t matter.  We were in love with each other and I still hadn’t figured out the license plate number of the truck that hit me that first day.

During the first free-time period we had on day two of camp, Chris led me into the woods and I have to put it this way:  I made love for the first time in my life.  The funny thing was she was gonna teach me how to do it but, ah, well, let’s just say she was more than deliriously happy to discover that I knew of a lot of interesting things to do to her.  Every free-time period we had was spent in “our place” in the dense camp woods doing stuff that would get us both sent home and maybe even barred from ever coming back to camp – but we didn’t care.

And at almost every turn, that song could be heard playing on a radio somewhere, even in my cabin – it was quite popular back in 1969 for a song that talked about man’s inhumanity to man and our eventual demise in the year 9595.  But, we both agreed that it was our song and the summer progressed until, finally, it was time to go home.  The night before, we had the traditional camp dance and party and while I had accomplished much in my activities – like earning my American Archer certificate as well as my Marksman certificate with the .22 long rifle; I had long since earned my Dolphin swimming rating – none of this stuff resonated with me.  Chris and I danced and hung out with our other friends and they ribbed us unmercifully about us being a couple.  The last song we danced to was, well, guess.

Man, talk about being mushy?  The song isn’t exactly a slow song but not exactly a fast song either – but that didn’t matter; we danced slowly, our bodies as close as the camp staff was going to allow (but we cheated on this one), and we were both in tears as we swayed to the haunting music.  When the song was over, we sneaked down to the beach and in a glorious rush of passion and desire, made love one last time at camp on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, under a sky filled with stars.

It was more like several times and some really weird shit was going on inside my head.  I would explode into her and she’d cling to me as her own body shuddered and that song was looping through my head the whole time we were on that beach…

Skip ahead to September 1969, my 15th birthday.  I’m not sure how it happened but I recall walking into our house with Chris in tow to do the “meet the parent” thing.  My maternal grandmother was there as well so Chris got to meet her and it went well, all things considered… until Chris went home (after we sneaked off somewhere to make love).  My grandmother went ballistic on me, ranting and raving at me for not staying with my own kind and other “racial” stuff that was true back in the day for her – but not so much for me.  It was an awful tongue-lashing and one I’m never going to forget because it went against everything I had learned up to that point.

Chris’ parents weren’t much better when I met them.  Oh, they treated me like an honored guest when I met them and I was on my very best behavior but, when it was time for me to go home, her father took me to the side and said, “It was so nice to meet you and I can see why my daughter loves you… but don’t come back here again.  It’s not personal – I like you and you’re a decent young man but, well, there are differences…”

And I never saw Chris again and while it hurt like a bitch, life went on.  A few months later, I met the girl I’d eventually marry.  Skip ahead a whole lot of years.  I’m in downtown Wilmington for God only knows what reason and I’m waiting for the light to change when I hear a voice say, “Robby?”  Okay, that brain thing:  I hear a female voice and one I don’t instantly recognize and, outside of my friends and family, not many people know me by this particular diminutive so I’m wondering who this is.  I turn toward the questioning voice and there’s this red-headed woman with a ton of freckles on her rather lovely face… and even as my mind is searching through the files to ID her, my body knows who she is:  It’s Chris.

I don’t remember where I was supposed to go but I didn’t get there.  We wound up at a restaurant, talking up a storm even as the food we’d ordered got cold and almost inedible.  We talked about when we met and the bullshit that caused us to not see each other and how it affected us going forward.  We were both married with children now – we did the picture thing and, well, we just talked about how we were each other’s first true love and, yeah, it touched me to see her blush over our, ah, free-time activities and especially that night on the beach.

She excused herself from the table and it gave me time to get my feelings under control.  I knew I wasn’t still in love with her but I remembered it.  She came back a few minutes later – she had called her husband and asked him to come to the restaurant to meet me and, as we waited, guess what song started playing?  At first, I thought she arranged it but, no, she was just as floored as I was to hear “our song” and that brought back another flood of emotions and memories.

Her hubby arrived – he must have worked downtown – and you would have thought he was meeting the president or something ’cause he was awfully happy to meet me.  First thing he said after we shook hands was, “I know you.”  It took me a second to realize that Chris must have told him at some point and, oops, I felt myself blushing as he went on and on about always wanting to meet the guy who made such a difference in his wife’s life.  It was a very weird reunion, to say the least.

All of this came to mind when I was reading blogs about songs that remind you of specific things in your life and, for some reason, this one popped into my head.  I haven’t heard it since that last time I saw Chris but memory is a funny thing; I thought of the song and all the memories surrounding it and Chris came flooding back as well as the, ah, “racial” issues of that time, things that made me determined to never let a person’s race affect me like it did in 1969…

 
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Posted by on 5 December 2011 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Yeah, the title’s kinda Christmassy but I’m talking music.  From time to time, I seem to remind myself just how much music I have at my disposal.  I have more CDs than I feel like counting; I can listen to the music on any of my computers for seven days and not hear the same song twice (unless someone did a different version); my iPod’s storage space is consumed more with music than all the other stuff combined.

Do ya think I love my music?  Hell, I got a couple of Android apps for my phone that’ll make the music on it bumping – in case I can’t get to my iPod.  This time of year, we’re into whatever Christmas music floats your boat but there are two pieces of Christmas music that gives me chills and can bring tears to my eyes:  “Traditions of Christmas” and “Cantique de Noel,” better known as “O Holy Night” and both pieces as arranged and performed by Mannheim Steamroller.  And if you’ve heard me say this before, yeah, I’m saying it again.

Yeah, I know some of you are wondering, “What the fuck…?” and that’s what I thought when I heard the group’s name – but these two pieces, on their “A Fresh Aire Christmas” CD. made me forget all about their crazy name.  I do believe that even if I weren’t a musician, I’d love these songs; that I am just makes me love them more.  I found Luther’s “Every Year, Every Christmas,” wondered how I missed even having the song to begin with and, hell, I’ll play the shit out of that song even if it ain’t Christmas!

Sometimes it’s about the lyrics of a song that grabs me; most of the time, it’s the music itself.  Like, for all you classical fans out there and those who love all things Bach (as I do), you should hear Don Dorsey’s arrangement of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire.”  When my youngest told me about this guy, I wondered – as you probably are – “Who’s this?”  He told me to just listen… and wow.  Likewise, I’m a big fan of Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos’ early and groundbreaking work performing Bach on the first generation Moog synthesizers, all monophonic (one note at a time) and each sound created from scratch – and with patch cords.  Hell, if I thought I was moved listening to the Philadelphia Orchestra (Ormandy era) perform Bach live, Carlos totally blew me away – and even more since I now know exactly how he did it and how incredibly difficult it was compared to today, where I can do what Carlos did and with some button pushes on my Korg music workstation…

I compiled a playlist for my computers that also resides on my iPod; not quite mood music but just a mix of the various genres I like and, really, the playlist is just a tiny subset of the music I like… because I don’t own any music I don’t like or wouldn’t listen to.  If I could – and I almost did – dump the entire content of my computer library of music onto my iPod, I’d be a little happy; I’d be made happier if I could get EVERY piece of music I own on it and, no, the 64GB version wouldn’t cut it.

So, after a day of sitting in front of the computer, watching TV, interacting with my baby and the cat, and communing with you, my blogging buddies, when I call it a night, I usually read until my eyes get tired – but sometimes I can’t sleep; there’s still this pain thing I’ve been battling all day.  So, there’s a series of podcasts I downloaded to my iPod and the narrator’s voice is one of those that’ll just put me out in good order even though his stories are right up my alley.  But the last couple of nights, I decided to read first, then crank up the playlist.

My baby bought me some new ear buds – Skullcandy Ink’d – because I haven’t been able to replace my Bose ear buds, which came to an end due to a vicious cat attack.  The things Apple gives you with an iPod are bullshit; you’d think with all the fucking money you pay for an iPod touch, they’d give you better ear buds, cheap  bastards!  Anyway, I like the Skullcandy buds not only because of the great sound but I can lie in bed with them in my ears comfortably; with those cheap Apple buds, I can only lie on my back ’cause to lie on my sides makes my ears hurt.

I have an odd mix of music on my playlist, from jazz (Sypro Gyra’s my favorite) to even movie soundtracks; I think the opening music for “Star Trek: First Contact” is some of the most beautiful music that’s been written for those movies – well, the first three minutes of it, anyway.  I’ve got some R&B oldies and a some newbies, some old-school hip-hop, classical, dance – everything except reggae and C&W.  I even have a song I composed and performed on the playlist, not because I wrote it (well, not totally) but because it’s nice to listen to.  I’ve got gospel, both old school a capella by a group from WAY back in the day and new school Kirk Franklin-type stuff; have you heard “Brokenhearted?”  God, I love that song…

What are you listening to?  What’s your favorite pieces, you know, the songs you can literally put on repeat and listen to it over and over?  Do you listen according to your mood?  Do you listen to mixed genres or like to   stick with just one?  And what’s your favorite Christmas song and who does it?

Have you listened to Mariah Carey’s “Hero” lately?  Ever heard George Duke’s “The Simple Life?”

 
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Posted by on 27 November 2011 in Life, Living and Loving

 

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